Scientists Say: Herbivore

These animals eat mostly plants

Koalas are herbivores that have evolved to eat from a tree called eucalyptus. This plant is full of toxins, but koalas have a way to break those chemicals down.

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Herbivore (noun, “HER-beh-VOAR”)

These are animals that eat mostly or only plants. Herbivores can be tiny insects, such as aphids and grasshoppers. But a diet of plants can also sustain massive beasts, like rhinos, elephants and moose. Even some fish are herbivorous (her-BIV-or-us). For example, pacus, cousins of meat-eating piranhas, nosh on plants.

Herbivores chomp on many plant parts including seeds, leaves, flowers and fruits. Scientists can clue into an animal’s diet by the shape of its teeth. Sharp, cone-shaped teeth can help a predator, such as a wolf, tear the muscles of its prey. But broad and bumpy teeth are better for a plant eater to tear leaves or grind up grass.

Some herbivores have diets specially adapted to certain plants. For instance, milkweed plants make a chemical most creatures can’t stomach. But the caterpillars of monarch butterflies can. And feeding on some types of milkweed even seems to help monarch caterpillars avoid infection by parasites.

In a sentence

An analysis of fossil teeth suggests that some ancient crocs were herbivores.

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Carolyn Wilke is a staff writer at Science News for Students. She has a Ph.D. in environmental engineering. Carolyn enjoys writing about chemistry, microbes and the environment. She also loves playing with her cat.

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